Charles River Blue Cities Initiative

Massachusetts receives about 45 inches of precipitation every year. In the natural environment, almost half of this rainfall filters into the ground, and nearly all the rest returns to the sky as water vapor. In cities, we have paved over the ground and cut down many of the trees that turn water into vapor. The result: well over 50 percent of the rain in a typical year quickly becomes polluted storm water runoff. Developed areas are designed to collect and discard rain quickly, dumping runoff in the river system through storm drains. Bigger storms overwhelm the system, resulting in flooding and, depending on the infrastructure, combined sewer and sanitary sewer overflows.

To make rain once again an asset that replenishes aquifers, and to reduce the pollution from storm water and the risk of flooding from storm events, Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) is working to reengineer urban landscapes to function more naturally. By designing natural green corridors and infrastructure that can soak up water and carry it slowly through the city. Restoring urban greenscapes which drastically lower water consumption is at the heart of CRWA’s Blue Cities Initiative. Using historic maps as a starting point to understand how rainwater once functioned before urbanization, Blue Cities analyses evaluates opportunities for restoration that work with, rather than against, natural hydrology. CRWA evaluates soil types, historic groundwater flow, and historic versus constructed drainage patterns. This information forms the basis for retrofitting buildings, streets and parking lots to capture and treat runoff, connect isolated green space, and create greenways – in effect, mimicking historic natural conditions.


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